Friday 18 October 2019

Government ramping up its planning for no-deal

Hiring of customs officers can be accelerated if UK crashes out

Simon Coveney Photo: Steve Humphreys
Simon Coveney Photo: Steve Humphreys

Cormac McQuinn, Kevin Doyle, Claire Fox and Eilish O'Regan

The Government is ramping up preparations for a no-deal Brexit amid massive uncertainty over whether or not the proposed withdrawal agreement with the UK will be passed in Westminster.

Planning is continuing across all Government departments for the possibility that the UK could crash out of the EU without a deal.

Revenue said it could accelerate the hiring of customs officers in such a scenario.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said the Government was preparing for all outcomes, including "the worst case scenario of a no-deal" while still seeking "a sensible, managed, controlled Brexit".

Mr Coveney said the Government must carry on setting money aside for a disorderly Brexit. "All of that work continues because we can't take anything for granted, that's for sure," he said. However, the Government remains coy on what those plans are exactly.

A statement from the Department of Health said it and the HSE were engaging in "intensive Brexit preparedness and contingency planning".

This includes plans for minimising disruption to health services, including cross-Border arrangements and ensuring the continuity of supply of medicines, medical devices and manpower.

Other departments, including Finance, Transport, and Justice, referred questions on no-deal contingency planning to Mr Coveney's Department of Foreign Affairs.

A statement from the Department of Foreign Affairs said it was co-ordinating a "whole of Government approach" to a range of Brexit scenarios, including a no-deal outcome.

It did not offer specifics on measures relating to a no-deal scenario but insisted: "As a responsible Government, preparedness for different types of Brexit is well underway."

The statement mentioned the Government's 'Getting Ireland Brexit Ready' public information campaign and plans to recruit up to 1,000 customs and veterinary officers for ports and airports to deal with the East-West impacts of Brexit.

Fears of a "doomsday" no-deal Brexit were raised at the Dáil's Public Accounts Committee (PAC), with Revenue chairman Niall Cody being quizzed about his organisation's preparations.

He said that current Brexit planning would see up to 270 additional customs officers in place when the UK is due to leave the EU in March.

There would be 600 hired by the end of the proposed Brexit transition period up to the start of 2021.

Mr Cody said that in the event of a no-deal scenario the Revenue could speed up the recruitment process.

He also insisted that Revenue's upgraded ICT systems would be able to cope with "significant multiples" of the current customs entries it deals with.

Fianna Fáil TD Shane Cassells predicted that British Prime Minister Theresa May will be forced out of office.

He asked if there will be enough trained officials by March 29 to "deal with the doomsday scenario and that we're not going to require a 'Dad's Army'". Mr Cody said: "I am satisfied Revenue will be in a position to support trade in April next year."

He also said: "I don't want people to come away from here saying everything will be alright. If it happens, there'll be big challenges. There'll be a lot of work involved but that's what we'll have to deal with."

Sinn Féin's David Cullinane asked what Ireland's immediate obligations would be in relation to customs under World Trade Organisation rules if the UK crashed out of Europe with no deal. Mr Cody refused to "speculate" but said there are "policy implications", and "political decisions" would be made by Government.

Elsewhere, Agriculture Minister Michael Creed said his department was "preparing for all eventualities".

Mr Creed said the Budget provided for infrastructure and staffing arrangements relating to ports and airports and IT systems. He insisted: "We are well advanced across the whole of Government in dealing with all those issues."

He also pointed to two €300m loan schemes aimed at helping businesses and farmers to prepare and the allocation of €115m in the Budget for Brexit measures across a number of Departments. This includes supports for enterprise agencies to help open up new markets and funding to expand Ireland's diplomatic presence around the world.

Irish Independent

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